NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

Apr 29, 2022, 7:22 AM | Updated: 7:43 am
FILE - Far-right leader Marine Le Pen gestures after speaking after the early result projections of...

FILE - Far-right leader Marine Le Pen gestures after speaking after the early result projections of the French presidential election runoff were announced in Paris, Sunday, April 24, 2022. On Friday, April 29, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming the number of votes for French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen decreased from 14.4 million during a live count to 13.3 million when her defeat was declared. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

(AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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Unexplained hepatitis cases not caused by COVID-19 vaccines

CLAIM: A recent outbreak of unexplained hepatitis cases among children is being caused by the adenovirus vector used in some COVID-19 vaccines, including the Johnson & Johnson shot.

THE FACTS: Medical experts say this isn’t the case, mainly because the dead adenovirus used in the J&J vaccine is a different strain than the one linked to the recent hepatitis cases. British health authorities this month have documented more than 100 cases of unexplained hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, among young children, and some social media users are suggesting the cases could be linked to J&J’s vaccine. While it isn’t clear what’s causing the illnesses, which have also been identified in the U.S., a leading suspect is adenovirus, a common group of viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms, fevers, sore throats and intestinal issues. Adenovirus was detected in 75% of the recent juvenile hepatitis cases tested, U.K. health officials have said. Viral vector vaccines, like the J&J vaccine, use dead, nonreplicable adenovirus to help trigger an immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The AstraZeneca and Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines also use viral vectors. Social media users are highlighting this connection to push the baseless claim that the adenovirus vector is causing the mysterious cases. But experts say that’s not possible. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Associated Press that current evidence indicates these hepatitis cases could be caused by adenovirus type 41, which is associated with intestinal infections. The adenovirus used as a vector in the J&J vaccine is type 26. Offit added that the adenovirus used as a vector in the vaccine cannot reproduce itself in the body and spread. “The combination of the fact that it’s not the type of adenovirus that’s expected to cause hepatitis, nor is it a virus that reproduces itself, makes the claim ludicrous,” Offit said. Dr. Mark Slifka, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Oregon Health & Science University, pointed to an April paper by researchers with Scotland’s public health department describing their initial investigation into the first Scottish cases of the sudden liver disease. The investigation noted that none of the children had been vaccinated against COVID-19, nor were the other patients in the U.K. “What appears to be happening on social media, is that people are jumping to conclusions that are not based on current evidence,” Slifka wrote in an email. A spokesperson for Public Health Scotland also told the AP that “there is no evidence to support the claims” linking the juvenile hepatitis cases to COVID-19 vaccines. Further, no increased risk of hepatitis was identified in clinical trials of the vaccines, or after emergency use authorization allowed many people to be vaccinated, Slifka noted. Adenovirus is currently circulating in children at higher than average levels after dropping during the pandemic. One theory being explored is that children who weren’t exposed to adenovirus over the last two years as COVID-19 restrictions were in place may now be getting hit harder upon exposure.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.

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Denmark still offering COVID-19 vaccinations

CLAIM: Denmark has become the first country to suspend COVID-19 vaccinations.

THE FACTS: Denmark is ending broad vaccination efforts, meaning it will no longer send out vaccination invitations or reminders, but people can still get vaccinated against COVID-19 as needed. Social media users shared posts that misinterpreted a statement from the Danish Health Authority about the country’s mass vaccination program that began in December 2020, falsely suggesting Denmark would no longer be vaccinating citizens. “Denmark becomes first country to suspend COVID vaccinations,” an Instagram user wrote. Similar claims were also shared on Facebook and Twitter. Denmark’s health authority states on its website that starting May 15, electronic vaccine invitations will no longer be issued, but people can still receive their vaccine. Vaccine invitations notify people when they are eligible to receive a shot and provide information on the vaccine and time slots to book an appointment. Vaccines will still be recommended, especially among groups who are at risk of developing severe disease and people who have started the vaccine course but haven’t completed it. The second booster shot is currently offered to people with weakened immune systems or other types of diseases. “Denmark has not suspended covid vaccinations,” Signe Breitenstein, spokesperson for the Danish Health Authority, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “The vaccine coverage is high in the Danish population and the epidemic situation is favorable. We can therefore close the broad vaccination programme for the time being, which for instance means that electronic invitations to be vaccinated no longer are sent.” Around 81% of Denmark’s population of 5.8 million has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 62% have received a booster. Bolette Søborg, Denmark’s chief physician, also noted Tuesday in an update about the vaccine program that Denmark is “in a good place” with COVID-19. “Spring has arrived, vaccine coverage in the Danish population is high, and the epidemic has reversed. Therefore, the National Board of Health is now ending the broad vaccination efforts against covid-19 for this season,” the update stated. Denmark’s vaccine program is set to resume in the fall in anticipation of potential new variants or an increase in cases heading into winter. “Prior to this, a thorough professional assessment must be made of who and when to be vaccinated and with which vaccines,” Søborg said. We expect to present a plan for the overall framework for the 2022/23 season before the summer holidays.”

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.

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Officials: Ukraine didn’t send text warnings in Transnistria

CLAIM: Ukrainian authorities warned the people of Transnistria in a text message that Ukraine was planning an attack on the region.

THE FACTS: Two Ukrainian government sources said in public statements on Tuesday that the country is not responsible for the message, which did not display any evidence it came from a verified source. Recent explosions in Transnistria, a small strip of land under the control of separatists near Moldova’s border with Ukraine, have raised concerns that the war between Russia and Ukraine could extend there. Following reports of another round of explosions on Tuesday morning, social media users posted that some residents in the breakaway region had received text message warnings claiming to be on behalf of Ukrainian agencies stating that the country’s military was planning an attack. Some social media users shared a photo of a screen displaying the purported text message, which stated in Russian, “The Security Service of Ukraine strongly recommends that the civilian population be evacuated to safer regions. We assure you that the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not wish harm to civilians, however, the people remaining in the cities will be perceived as sabotage groups and will be liquidated without warning.” The message urged residents to evacuate before 7 p.m., at which time the text said Ukrainian forces were set to launch an attack on military facilities. The photo of the message was shared widely on Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear on what day or at what time it was sent. Still, no such strike was reported in Transnistria around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, and two Ukrainian government sources said in statements that the text messages were not sent by Ukrainian authorities. “The state of Ukraine has nothing to do with this and similar provocations,” the military’s main intelligence directorate wrote in a statement in Ukrainian. Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun tweeted an image of the text on a screen, with a statement saying, “Ukraine hasn’t sent such text messages and has no plans to attack Transnistria.” The photo of the purported text message did not include a phone number, signature or any identifying details and showed no indication it came from a verified source or official agency. The Security Council of Transnistria has said explosions believed to have been caused by rocket-propelled grenades hit the Ministry of State Security in the capital of Tiraspol on Monday, and explosions at a radio facility in Maiac as well as damage to a military unit in the village of Parcani, were reported on Tuesday morning. No injuries have been reported and no one has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Transnistria has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, nominally as peacekeepers, The Associated Press has reported. Ukrainian officials have expressed concern about Moscow using those forces to invade Ukraine.

— Sophia Tulp

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Elon Musk didn’t get Bill Gates suspended from Twitter

CLAIM: Shortly after Elon Musk reached an agreement to buy Twitter on Monday, Bill Gates was suspended from the platform.

THE FACTS: A screenshot purporting to show a suspension notice on Bill Gates’ Twitter account on Monday is fake. In the hours after the Tesla CEO reached an agreement to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion, the screenshot emerged on the platform with claims it showed Musk had already influenced the social media company to suspend billionaire philanthropist Gates, who he has publicly criticized in recent days. “Elon moves quick,” said one Twitter user who posted the manipulated screenshot on Monday afternoon. “First thing,” commented another user. The screenshot appeared to show Gates’ Twitter profile, including his picture, follower count, bio, location and website, above a notice saying, “Account suspended.” However, Gates’ account has remained active throughout the week, and an archive of the web page documented on Monday at about 1:15 p.m. — around the time news first broke that Twitter was poised to accept Musk’s offer — shows his account had not been taken down and no such notice had been posted. Gates also tweeted at 4:36 p.m. and 6:05 p.m. on Monday. There is other evidence that the image is fake. Twitter profiles that are suspended appear to users without profile pictures or bio sections. They no longer list details such as follower counts, locations or website links, either — unlike what was shown in the altered screenshot. Those who visit a suspended profile only see the user’s handle, and a gray background where the profile picture and header photo are usually displayed, along with an “account suspended” message. On Sunday, Musk called out Gates in a tweet, saying that he turned down a request from the Microsoft co-founder to discuss climate change philanthropy because he believed Gates was short-selling shares of Tesla stock. “I heard from multiple people at TED that Gates still had half billion short against Tesla,” Musk also wrote in a Twitter reply to a user who had posted screenshots of an alleged text message conversation between the two business magnates. Still, Musk has also said he wants his “worst critics” to remain on Twitter because “that is what free speech means.”

— Sophia Tulp

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Clip shows French TV error, not election fraud

CLAIM: The number of votes for French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen decreased from 14.4 million during a live count to 13.3 million when her defeat was declared.

THE FACTS: The discrepancy was caused by a computing error during an election night live count run by TV channel France 2, causing inaccurate figures to be displayed at one point during the show, according to a statement from the broadcaster. There is no record of France’s Interior Ministry officially reporting the inaccurate figures. After Emmanuel Macron won a second term as president on Sunday, some social media users suggested without evidence that election fraud may have played a role in his victory. Some Twitter users pointed to a clip from a France 2 broadcast that showed a graphic displaying more than 14.4 million votes for Le Pen, seemingly beating Macron at that time, who was shown on screen to have about 14.2 million votes. The result shown during that point in the broadcast for Le Pen was higher than the final count later announced by the Interior Ministry. Official results show Macron received nearly 18.8 million votes, while almost 13.3 million votes were cast for Le Pen. “How is it possible that the number of votes counted for Marine le Pen went down from 14.4m during the live count to 13.3m at the declaration?” one Twitter user wrote Monday, sharing the clip. “It stinks of election fraud,” commented another in French. The channel, however, said in a statement Monday that Le Pen never actually received 14.4 million votes. Instead, France 2 attributed that figure, aired about 9:10 p.m., to a technical error that caused the graphic to show “erroneous figures.” A software glitch counted the votes of certain municipalities twice for both Macron and Le Pen, inflating their respective vote counts at the time, France 2 said. “That error, immediately noticed, has been subsequently corrected,” the broadcaster added. Several versions of the Interior Ministry’s election results page archived throughout Sunday do not show Le Pen’s total votes surpassing 13.3 million.

— Sophia Tulp and Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report with additional reporting from Sylvie Corbet in Paris.

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NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week